Humanities research absent at Lebanese universities

  • Category: Lebanon
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LebaneseUniversitiesBattleQuantityQualityBy Oliver Ramsay Gray for The Daily Star

The absence of high-level humanities research in Lebanon is widespread and brings with it consequences that go beyond academia. A main aspect of the poor state of humanities in Lebanon is the failure to bridge the gap between academia and a wider audience. Despite Lebanon’s pride and reputation in higher education there is a notable absence of public intellectuals.

The lack of public-academic engagement weakens the humanities’ reputation as it gives off the impression that the humanities are of little worth to society.

“Colloquially, to philosophize is to bullshit,” said Rami El Ali, assistant professor of Philosophy at the Lebanese American University.

“[That’s because] it’s not immediately obvious what we’re contributing to society.”

Ali said it was understandable “because this is a post-war society [and people] are very concerned about making a living.”

This reputation is reinforced by many parents who are well known for placing pressure on their children to study science, engineering, or medicine – a “serious problem,” according to Selim Deringil, professor of History at LAU. Only four sophomore entry students enrolled in LAU’s Translation program this year, and not one in Arabic, History, or Philosophy.

Deringil explained that this is a common characteristic among developing nations, and is by no means limited to Lebanon.

Financial struggles and job prospects in the country play their part as well, tying into the low status and low priority given to the humanities. Abdul Rahim Abu-Husayn, professor of History at the American University of Beirut pointed out that “in the West, you can live by writing ... here you cannot.”

Despite the 40 or so universities that Lebanon boasts, Abu-Husayn dismissed their ability to sustain and support an academic culture. “Apart from a few institutions, the others are just dispensing degrees and making money,” he said.

The problems begin in secondary school teaching that is also failing the humanities.

There is a need for history students to “relearn” what they studied at school, according to Abu-Husayn. “I succeed with 50 percent of them. I fail with the other 50 percent,” he said.

It is not only the narrow confines of the course, however. The wider humanities culture at school is severely lacking and uninspiring Deringil explained.

“They [students] have the idea that they just have to memorize,” he said. “They just don’t like reading.” It is no surprise on that report that the humanities are easily dismissed as a soft subject.

In the professional arena of academia there are issues as well. There is a widespread lack of engagement with recent Lebanese history in both research and teaching at other leading institutions.

Currently not one professor at the AUB’s history faculty is conducting sustained research into post-World War II Lebanese history. Abu-Husayn explained that “our department is rather conservative in this respect.” He added, however, that history was very useful for understanding contemporary affairs.

This is in part due to the significance of the relationship between the humanities and politics according to Deringil. “It teaches you to think, it teaches you to question ... and not accept received wisdoms,” he said.

But given what he also describes as the “amazing baggage of recent memory,” this is problematic to say the least.

History is an extremely contentious subject and because of this “one of the major bones of contention that can lead to civil conflict,” as Abu-Husayn said he experienced even within the classroom when he began to teach early Islamic history. “Even academic historians generally tend to follow a sectarian history,” he said.

Another telltale sign of the shortcomings of the humanities in Lebanon is the persistence of inaccuracies believed to be historical facts. A common myth is that Fakhr al-Din I met Sultan Selim I, who bestowed upon him the title of sultan al-barr (sultan of the land). However, Kamal Salibi in an article published in 1973 entitled “The Secret of the House of Ma’n” proved that Fakhr al-Din I actually died 10 years before the meeting was meant to have taken place. Yet the story persists.

Another myth, according to Deringil is the belief, particularly among Christians, that Youssef Bey Karam opposed and resisted the Ottoman Empire.

Records have proved that Karam had tried to become an Ottoman official himself.

The myths, and the inaccuracies they entail, are built up around particular communities and have contributed to divisions within society by reinforcing separate, distinct identities. Deringil called for steps to bridge such gaps. “I think it’s a very important part of our profession to reach out to people who are not academics,” he said. “I’m not sure we’re doing enough ourselves to [implement] that.”

Ali has gone beyond the realm of academia and has recently been involved with the Beirut Madinati movement and is now an assembly member – “something like Beirut Madinati, a lot of the people who are there have done stuff that has to do with the humanities.”

From the Secular Club at AUB to the Intersectional Feminist Club at LAU, political activism is closely connected with the humanities.

In light of the struggling humanities disciplines, this is a worrying connection for Ali, who noted that “none of our problems are problems that have to do with science and technology.”

AUB leaps up influential QS World University Rankings for 2016

  • Category: Lebanon
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In a press release by the American University of Beirut, it said: "The QS World University Rankings for the year 2016/2017 issued on September 6, 2016 show progress on AUB's overall ranking amongst universities worldwide with an increase of 40 positions or spots, making it the university with the most improvement amongst the top 250 ranking universities in the past year. With an overall score of 43.3, AUB ranks 228 amongst universities worldwide, jumping from last year's score of 268."

Release added: "The improvement in ranking is mainly due to an increase of 18 places in the Academic Reputation indicator (considered the centerpiece of the QS rankings and carrying a weighted score of 40% of the overall performance score) and 21 places in the Student-to-Faculty ratio (weighted at 20%) which evaluates the level of teaching quality through calculating the ratio between two datasets, full time equivalent students per full time equivalent faculty."

"This significantly improved ranking is a clear testimony of the University's continuous drive for sustaining excellence in teaching, research, and service, and for becoming a premier University not only in the region but worldwide," Interim Provost Mohamed Harajli told us. "The AUB community, including students, faculty, staff, and alumni should feel proud of this remarkable achievement."

Over 100,000 survey responses were collected by the think tank Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), considering 4,322 universities, with 916 evaluated in one of the most comprehensive and trusted global ranking processes, the only one independently scrutinized and International Ranking Expert Group (IREG) approved.'

AUB ranks in the top 100 worldwide on two indicators: Employer Reputation (10% of overall score), taking into consideration the reputation of the university amongst employers and the resulting employability of fresh graduates; and International faculty (5% of overall score), assessing success in attracting academics from other nations.

All the University's figures and indices for the Citations per Faculty category are higher for the year 2016, although AUB's ranking dropped for this category, indicating a rise in research figures across all universities. AUB increased its publishing from less than 500 to over 1,000 papers per year since 2015. AUB ranked 73rd in the world and first in the Arab world in employment reputation.

"This is a significant evidence of the high quality of the faculty that AUB has and the services that our institution provides to students, the great and relevant education that it offers to its students, and the high caliber of workforce and leaders that it produces and makes available to the local and regional economies and societies," Director of AUB University Libraries, Dr. Lokman Meho told us.

"I am heartened to learn of the prestigious QS rankings and their affirmation of us as the finest institution of higher learning in Lebanon and among the top 3 in the Arab world," President Fadlo R. Khuri told us.

"While these rankings by no means can reflect all of the tremendous impact and value that AUB provides for Lebanon, the Arab world, and the international community as a whole, they do serve as affirmation of our continued progress towards being unanimously acclaimed as one of the finest universities in the world."

Article Source : NNA

American U of Beirut Will Restore Tenure System

  • Category: Lebanon
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American University of Beirut studentsAmerican University of Beirut announced on Friday November 20, 2015 that it is restoring a tenure system for faculty members. The university suspended the use of tenure in 1985, at the height of the Lebanese Civil War, when Malcolm Kerr, president of AUB, was assassinated and many feared for the university's future. Tenure is being restored based on a vote of the Faculty Senate and of the university board. Faculty committees will now develop systems for tenure reviews -- both for new faculty members and those who have been working as faculty members at the university without tenure.

AUB awarded Honorary Degree to Labaki, Taleb and Zard and graduated 2076

  • Category: Lebanon
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The American University of Beirut (AUB)  graduated 2076 students this past May.  The 2016 class included 510 in Graduate, PhD, and Doctor of Medicine programs and 1566 undergraduate students.  During the ceremony, AUB granted the honorary doctorate in Humane Letters to film-maker Nadine Labaki, writer Nassim Taleb and chemistry scientist Dr. Samir Zard for their world-renowned achievements in their respective fields.

President Fadlo Khuri addressed the gradutes saying: "Today, you will celebrate together. Tomorrow you will step forth into the world, knowing that you are more confident, more able, more resilient, and more determined than you were when you first walked through these timeless gates to be forever transformed."

Khuri added: "Today, in addition to celebrating your accomplishments, we honor three distinguished individuals whose willingness to defy conventional wisdoms has led to their ground breaking, societally impactful work. This year's honorands are an acclaimed Lebanese filmmaker and actor, a world-renowned author and radical thinker, and a giant of organic chemistry. They have been chosen in recognition of their achievements on the international stage and their determination not to let conventional wisdom stand in the way of their quest for transformative excellence."  He said that "the great Daniel Bliss shared this faith in the people of the Levant when he determined early in his tenure to one-day leave the governance of the institution to this region's indigenous people."

Commenting on the honorary degree, Nadine Labaki said: I am deeply moved today to be receiving this honor from one the finest universities in our country.

"To tell you the truth, I have been blessed lately. This year has been amazing to me! Four months ago I had a beautiful little girl, two weeks ago I was running for municipal elections with Beirut Madinati (Many of whom by the way are AUB alumni and Faculty, just to tell how great this institution is), two days ago, I wrote the most important two words of my next script: The END and now I'm here receiving this honor from the university I have so long been impressed by" she added.

In his turn, Zard said "The AUB has always been very dear to my heart, ever since I was admitted in 1971 as a free-auditor summer student. This was at the instigation of the late Professor Suheil Bushrui, of the Department of English Literature and a friend of our family."

For his part Taleb said: This is the first commencement I have ever attended (I did not attend my own commencement). Further, I have to figure out how lecture you on success when I do not feel successful yet -and it is not a false modesty.

"Success requires absence of fragility. I've seen billionaires terrified of journalists, wealthy people who felt crushed because their brother in law got very rich, academics with Nobel who were scared of comments on the web. The higher you go, the worse the fall. For almost all people I've met, external success came with increased fragility and a heightened state of insecurity. The worst are those "former something" types with 4 page CVs who, after leaving office, and addicted to the attention of servile bureaucrats, find themselves discarded: as if you went home one evening to discover that someone suddenly emptied your house of all its furniture", he added.

"I discovered along the way that the economists and social scientists were almost always applying the wrong math to the problems, what became later the theme of The Black Swan. Their statistical tools were not just wrong, they were outrageously wrong -they still are", he said.

Arabia Higher Ed Editorial Team.  National News Agency, Lebanon.

AUB acknowledges achievements and steps forward in gender equity

  • Category: Lebanon
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gender equity inThe Gender Equity Group at AUB has gathered faculty, staff, and students to reflect critically on the status of women at AUB, to showcase a broad selection of the current efforts related to women and gender equity in a panel, as well as raise awareness about gender equity issues at AUB in an event entitled ‘AUB and Gender Equity: 1905 to 2016’1.

In 1921, AUB became coeducational by taking the decisive step to admit female students in all its programs, including the Training School for Nurses, the Schools of Medicine, Pharmacy and Dentistry, the sophomore class of the School of Arts and Sciences in preparation for entrance to medicine; and as special students in courses above the freshman year in the School of Arts and Sciences. This momentous change garnered both supporters and opponents  but in the words of then Acting president Edward F. Nickoley, this step represented on the part of the university authorities “a deliberate action taken only after long and careful consideration of all the implications of the questions involved.”  

Twenty-five years later, AUB, a pioneer in higher education for women in the region had succeeded in providing women and the region with a unique experience. From the first five women who registered in 1921-1922, to the 127 female students registered in 1947, AUB had charted a courageous path, contributing to a shift in gender relations, and “providing young women with the possibility to imagine a different future,” as wrote Nadia El Cheikh and Samar El Mikati in their chapter titled ‘Women at AUB: The Beginnings, 1905 – 1947, a Photo Essay) in the book One Hundred and Fifty, recently published by AUB Press.

Today, 150 years since the foundation of the institution, the ‘AUB and Gender Equity: 1905 to 2016’ panel discussions reflected on progress made and some of the many steps yet to be taken for women and gender equity at AUB.

All AUB faculties were represented in the panels, in addition to representatives from centers and units at AUB conducting work on gender (Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS) and Environment and Sustainable Development Unit (ESDU)); program directors representing the University for Seniors and Executive Education Program; undergraduate students representing the Gender and Sexuality Club and the Secular Club and graduate students conducting their thesis around gender related issues.

The four panels examined AUB efforts for the advancement of women; faculty research and education; student action to raise consciousness; and AUB community engagement in the field of gender advancement at AUB. The panelists shared their work in relation to gender and gender equity at AUB, and shed light on the role that AUB is playing to promote gender equity in Lebanon and the region.

Throughout history, AUB has demonstrated several examples of women’s empowerment on campus. In its administration, two female deans and two female provosts have held position.  However, as AUB President Fadlo R. Khuri pointed out at the panel discussions, inequities remain. “We are proud that a lot of AUB’s leaders among staff and faculty are women, we have a good proportion of male to female, but there needs to be more women in leadership positions,” said Dr. Khuri.

As Dean Nahla Hwalla explained in her speech, more than a decade ago, the framework for responding to discrimination and harassment was established under then AUB President, Dr. John Waterbury, who mentioned in his state of the university address in 2002 that it was his policy “to increase the number of women in our student body, in our faculty ranks, and in our senior administration.”

In 2015, President Fadlo Khuri asked Dr. Brigitte Khoury of the Faculty of Medicine to chair a faculty/staff advisory group composed of men and women appointed to initiate an internal and comparative assessment of University practices, policies, and resources specific to non-discrimination, and to develop recommendations that advance a climate of respect, equity, and inclusion.  Also in the committee is Ms. Trudi Hodges, AUB’s first Title IX coordinator, assigned in 2014 to assist in and advise on allegations related to possible discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender at AUB and AUBMC.

President Khuri also appointed former Dean of the faculty of Health Sciences Huda Zurayk to co-chair with Professor of Architecture Dr. Howayda Al-Harithy a taskforce to look at the lives and careers of women faculty to provide data by the end of 2016 that can shape due policies.  At the opening of the panel discussions, Dr. Khuri announced an annual award that would be funded as a presidential initiative and would be assigned for a member of the AUB community nominated as consistent in the promotion of the lives and careers of women at AUB.

“I would like the next person who is president of AUB or provost or dean, to be chosen based on merit not on whether they are Lebanese or American, male or female. I want the best person chosen […]. Just based on the fact that they are excellent and fair and just and good role models. That’s our overarching role, and that’s why today is a great day, a start of a long and critical voyage,” said President Khuri.

AUB embraced coeducation long before many prestigious institutions did around the world, and with this initiative it is showing its strong disposition to continue playing a leading role in the empowerment of women in the region.

Source : AUB

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